Throw a dart at the 2021 free-agent quarterback board and you'll hit one that has been or will be linked to the Denver Broncos.
Pro Football Focus launched theirs; it landed on Dallas Cowboys backup/pinch starter Andy Dalton, who's heading to the open market in March. Match made.
The sports analytics giant, in ranking the NFL's top 100 unsigned players, predicted the Broncos will sign Dalton — their No. 35 overall free agent — to a two-year, $10 million contract with $8 million guaranteed ($6 million fully guaranteed at signing).
Dalton finished 24th in PFF grade among quarterbacks with at least 150 dropbacks in 2020, and that’s about where he stands in today’s landscape of NFL signal-callers. He is one of the league’s best backups and can start if needed, but he disappointed with three PFF game grades under 55.0 for the Cowboys this season. Over the course of his career, Dalton has been a mid-tier starter who can produce with an excellent supporting cast, and that general premise still applies to him, albeit in a backup role.
Contract Analysis: Dalton signed a one-year, $3 million deal to return to the Dallas area and serve as the backup to Dak Prescott, but he was thrust into a starting role in the middle of Week 5. To make matters more interesting, future Hall of Fame left tackle Tyron Smith and starting right tackle La’el Collins were not available for a single snap with Dalton. He did his best to keep the ship afloat and certainly proved he could make a great backup for a team going forward, but odds are his days of starting in the NFL are very much over.
The former longtime Cincinnati Bengals field general, Dalton made 11 appearances this season in place of Prescott, throwing for 1,926 yards, 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions on 187-of-286 (65.4%) passing, with a 90.7 cumulative QB rating. Following a 377-yard, three-TD Week 16 performance, however, Dalton no-showed for a must-win finale with the NFC East on the line, going 29-of-47 for 243 scoreless yards and a backbreaking INT, doing too little, too late in a 23-19 defeat to the Giants that officially eliminated Dallas from playoff contention.
Dalton — whose tumultuous 2020 campaign was marred by a concussion and bout with the coronavirus — has more than 33,000 career passing yards, 74 wins and three Pro Bowl trips to his name across 10 NFL seasons. Despite his fall from relevancy, the 33-year-old is ready for an eleventh, preferably as a permanent QB1.
“I feel like I can play, and I feel like I can help a team win,” Dalton said on Jan. 3, via the Cowboys' official website. “Hopefully, with the film that I put out this year, people see that and value me in that way. I obviously feel like I still got a lot of good football left, and we’ll see how it all plays out.”
The Cowboys are unlikely to re-sign Dalton, sending him to a free-agent pool that includes fellow greybeards Philip Rivers and Ryan Fitzpatrick as well as the likes of Mitchell Trubisky, Tyrod Taylor, and Jacoby Brissett, among others.
Denver, meanwhile, is expected to bring in an experienced signal-caller while outgoing czar John Elway and head coach Vic Fangio reportedly push new general manager George Paton to keep 2020 incumbent Drew Lock under center.
The Broncos already were named a top landing spot for Trubisky, whom Paton knows well from his days as the Minnesota Vikings' assistant GM. Now they're being dot-connected to Dalton.
And on it goes ...